California Literary Review

Science

The Great Dinosaur Discoveries by Darren Naish

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December 7th, 2009

Naish states that “most dinosaur books look at current views on dinosaurs and briefly recap the history of some key finds…. This book is specifically focused on changing ideas about the evolution and appearance of dinosaurs and the important discoveries that brought about these changes.” With its 200 or so color photos with captions, maps, tables, a taxonomic chart (dinosaur family tree), sidebars and accessible text, Naish’s book generally accomplishes this in an elegant and intriguing manner.

The Greatest Show On Earth: The Evidence for Evolution by Richard Dawkins

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October 19th, 2009

The unit of measure is a “Darwin,” so named by famed geneticist J. B. S. Haldane. One of the architects of modern Darwinism, he served with great courage in the Scottish Blackwatch Regiment during World War I, then continued his research. At that time, there were some 350,000 known species of beetles. When Haldane was asked by a theologian what he learned of the nature of God from his study of science, he replied, “That He has an inordinate fondness for beetles.”

From Galileo to Gell-Mann: The Wonder That Inspired The Greatest Scientists of All Time in Their Own Words

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August 27th, 2009

Duccio Machetto opines in the book’s introduction that, “Today science and theology are more aware of the specific nature of their methods, and take care to avoid ‘incursions’ into what is clearly the field of the other.” Apparently, young earth creationists are not a factor in Italy. The Holy See, however, does feel obliged to weigh in on scientific endeavor from time-to-time, this on a range of issues from Alzheimer’s research using fetal tissue to new and improved techniques of in vitro fertilization. Conversely, scientists such as Richard Dawkins write bestsellers insisting that religion is disproved by science.

Celebrating Galileo in Florence

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March 22nd, 2009

2009 is officially “The Year of Astronomy,” commemorating Galilei’s first observation of the Moon through his telescope in November of 1609. Born in Pisa, Galileo Galilei worked in Florence, where the fourth centennial of his discovery is being celebrated with a stunning and sophisticated exhibition which took four years to prepare.

Gaia

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December 8th, 2008

‘Can there have been any more inspiring vision this century than that of the Earth from space?’ exclaimed Lovelock, looking back. ‘We saw for the first time what a gem of a planet we live on. The astronauts who saw the whole Earth from Apollo 8 gave us an icon that has become as powerful as the scimitar or the cross.’

What If a Large Asteroid Was Heading for Earth?

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December 2nd, 2008

“But then an asteroid 6 miles across – that’s bigger than Mt. Everest! – slammed into the Gulf of Mexico just off the Yucatan Peninsula. The explosion was huge, setting fire to vast amounts of land, and creating a tsunami that must have scoured the Mexican and Texas coasts clean. It launched so much rock into the sky that they went on ballistic arcs, going up out of the atmosphere and then back down, setting fire to forests around the world.”

Reflections on the Dawn of Consciousness

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September 4th, 2008

Jaynes, a psychologist who taught at Princeton up until his death in 1997, showed how ancient peoples from Mesopotamia to Peru could not “think” as we do today, and were therefore not conscious. Unable to introspect or contemplate metaphor-driven scenarios, they experienced auditory hallucinations — voices of gods actually heard as the Old Testament or the Iliad — which, emanating from the brain’s right hemisphere, told an individual what to do in circumstances of novelty or stress.

Bracing For Armageddon? by William R. Clark

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August 14th, 2008

Asahara amassed hundreds of million dollars and sent agents to far-flung destinations to ferret out information and materials for use in bioweapons. In 1995, he sought to hasten the apocalypse and seize earthly power by spreading an unlikely sacrament, sarin gas, in the Tokyo subway system. This event killed twelve people outright and injured another thousand or more, many of them seriously. The group had carried out a previous gassing, a sort of practice run for the Tokyo event, in the outlying town of Matsumoto. Seven died.

Susskind Quashes Hawking in Quarrel Over Quantum Quandary

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July 8th, 2008

“The next generation of physicists and cosmologists will have the fun and excitement of discovering the right mathematical formulation of a “multiverse.” Finding observational (astronomical?) ways to confirm that we live in such a diverse world is another challenge. Only the old fogies who thought that physics was almost finished are disappointed. The only thing that I would find discouraging would be that we run out of questions.”

Einstein in Japan

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June 9th, 2008

The cult of Einstein reached the point where university officials in Fukuoka preserved the blackboard on which Einstein had scribbled during a lecture and forgot to erase. Shikanogi Masanobu, a professor in the humanities who sat in on Einstein’s lectures for six days, recalled: “I heard the quiet, serene sounds of his spirit. His thinking progresses steadily, quietly, like the melting of spring snow, without running, while sprinkling the meadow of knowledge with his jewels of mathematical equations.”

The Best American Science Writing 2007

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April 30th, 2008

Jonathon Keats’s article from Popular Science recounts the work of the guru of artificial intelligence, John Koza, an adjunct professor at Stanford University. He developed a system of linked computers that he calls an “invention machine.” The machine has been awarded a United States Patent (!), the “first intellectual property protections ever granted to a nonhuman designer.”

What is intelligence? by James R. Flynn

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November 1st, 2007

‘The Flynn Effect’ was the phrase Richard J. Herrnstein and Charles Murray coined in their book The Bell Curve, to describe the enormous gains in IQ scores in the 20th century from one generation to the next, which James R Flynn, Professor Emeritus at the University of Otago, did so much to measure and document.

Proust and the Squid by Maryanne Wolf

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September 26th, 2007

Reminding the reader that the likes of Thomas Edison, Leonardo da Vinci and Albert Einstein were dyslexics, Wolf ponders whether we can explain the “preponderance of creativity and ‘thinking outside the box’ in many people with dyslexia?” Wolf’s rhetorical questions are tackled with grace and one always feels richer for having spent time with her.

Michael Behe on The Edge of Evolution

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September 24th, 2007

“I conclude that Darwinian processes account for little of the machinery of life, and that most positive evolution must be nonrandom — guided somehow — and I argue that result fits well with the fine-tuning of the universe discovered by physics.”

Out of Thin Air: Dinosaurs, Birds, and Earth’s Ancient Atmosphere by Peter Douglas Ward

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July 23rd, 2007

In an age when ad agencies regularly apply “revolutionary” to new car models and digital toys, it is wise for the rest of us to avoid the word, but Peter Ward’s Out of Thin Air comes as close to meriting the label as anything I’ve seen of late. Paleontology does involve a lot of detail work, from tiny picks and toothbrushes to radioactive dating; however, some details may not only inform but overturn and reinvent the much bigger picture.

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